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Superhuman performance could betray sports drug cheats

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Superhuman performance could betray sports drug cheats

30 Jun 2010 17:29

New scientist article

more of the same really, but interesting that both the french government and wada are interested in the research.
TeamSkyFans
 

30 Jun 2010 17:44

TeamSkyFans wrote:New scientist article

more of the same really, but interesting that both the french government and wada are interested in the research.


Thanks for that.

I see it says:

"Pierre Sallet, a physiologist and athletics coach in Lyon, France, has studied this approach for WADA. When analysing one climb in the Tour, Sallet observed a rider who produced an average power in excess of 480 W for more than 30 minutes, a level which he considers "beyond all norms" and reason to investigate further."

I wonder who that was?

Also says,

"Prior to widespread EPO use, Tour winners' average power output was 380 watts on big climbs, with none exceeding 410 W, says Antoine Vayer, a professional cycling coach based in Pordic, France. Riis had an average power output of 445 W on Tour climbs in 1996. From 1994 onwards, Vayer calculated that around six riders per year averaged over 410 W."

Think Horner said in the recent Dauphine that he was maxxing out at about 400 on Alpe d'Huez. Sounds about right.

Jani Brak says he's found 40 watts in the last 2 weeks.:rolleyes: Wonder what his levels are.
User avatar Parrot23
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30 Jun 2010 17:55

I wonder how many of these findings have been shared with the french authorities ;)
TeamSkyFans
 

30 Jun 2010 17:59

I wonder if these guys are speaking about 1 hour max efforts in the middle of the TDF and in the middle of a TDF stage? Because, it would seem that the hour record holders including pre-EPO-era Merckx were above 410W - and shoudln't they be quoting watt/kg? Seems kinda of unsophisticated to use raw power isntead of relative no? I mean Magnus Backsteadt probably did high 480 W's in the laughing group...
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30 Jun 2010 18:08

oldschoolnik wrote:I wonder if these guys are speaking about 1 hour max efforts in the middle of the TDF and in the middle of a TDF stage? Because, it would seem that the hour record holders including pre-EPO-era Merckx were above 410W - and shoudln't they be quoting watt/kg? Seems kinda of unsophisticated to use raw power isntead of relative no? I mean Magnus Backsteadt probably did high 480 W's in the laughing group...


Usually when watts are quoted, it's already standardized to a rider of something like 72 kg. So essentially it's W/kg.
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30 Jun 2010 18:40

TeamSkyFans wrote:New scientist article


As an exercise physiologist, I find the thinking and logic exhibited in this article so full of holes as to be embarrassing.
acoggan
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30 Jun 2010 20:23

acoggan wrote:As an exercise physiologist, I find the thinking and logic exhibited in this article so full of holes as to be embarrassing.


That's funny, because after reading it I was embarrassed for your field as well, and wondering why they didn't use John McCain-style air quotes around "Science".

That said, Ross Tucker generally seems on top of it (despite some fuzzy math/speculations on the Verbier thing, which he did amend with a little more detail), so I have to think that some things really got lost in the translation by the author.
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30 Jun 2010 20:53

oldschoolnik wrote:I wonder if these guys are speaking about 1 hour max efforts in the middle of the TDF and in the middle of a TDF stage? Because, it would seem that the hour record holders including pre-EPO-era Merckx were above 410W - and shoudln't they be quoting watt/kg? Seems kinda of unsophisticated to use raw power isntead of relative no? I mean Magnus Backsteadt probably did high 480 W's in the laughing group...


i quote ross from the article he's written himself on the blog

"A sustained (over 40 minutes) power output of greater than 6.2 W/kg at the end of a Tour stage is simply not physiologically believable, and is strongly suggestive of doping. In fact, anything above 6.0 W/kg is very, very suspect."
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30 Jun 2010 20:58

Parrot23 wrote:Jani Brak says he's found 40 watts in the last 2 weeks.:rolleyes: Wonder what his levels are.


he must be dumb as fcuk. Does he not realise what he says? He told us he was peaking for the dauphine, then he only goes and finds another 40watts, which is a LOT from what i can understand.

that means he's added approx 10 % to his capacity :eek: in two weeks. When he was already peaking. That's got to be cutting edge training right there :p
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User avatar workingclasshero
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30 Jun 2010 21:50

workingclasshero wrote:he must be dumb as fcuk. Does he not realise what he says? He told us he was peaking for the dauphine, then he only goes and finds another 40watts, which is a LOT from what i can understand.

that means he's added approx 10 % to his capacity :eek: in two weeks. When he was already peaking. That's got to be cutting edge training right there :p
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Maybe his coach is just really good at using certain tools for managing one's form. ;)
acoggan
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30 Jun 2010 21:53

workingclasshero wrote:i quote ross from the article he's written himself on the blog

"A sustained (over 40 minutes) power output of greater than 6.2 W/kg at the end of a Tour stage is simply not physiologically believable, and is strongly suggestive of doping. In fact, anything above 6.0 W/kg is very, very suspect."


Well aside from the fact that I think he's wrong on the numbers, consider this: based on analysis of power meter files from pro riders competing in such races, it is clear that estimates such as those generated by Tucker or Vayer are often in error by 10%, sometimes more.
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30 Jun 2010 22:02

BTW, this paper provides a perfect illustration of why the approach proposed in the New Scientist article (and by Lemond, etc.) is fraught with difficulties:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2022559

I have not applied the same logic to maximal 1 h power, but if you did you would arrive at a value for power in W/kg that would appear "superhuman", yet could quite possibly be the result of just a fortunate but random confluence of perfectly natural variation (plus training, of course).
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30 Jun 2010 22:12

A major problem with deeming people to be cheats if they exceed what we believe to be maximal human performance is that it only stops the very top people cheating. Everyone else can happily use drugs to lift themselves up to that same maximal level. If it were the only approach used, you'd expect to see a cluster of people at that level of performance rather than the extreme end of the bell curve that would otherwise be expected.
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30 Jun 2010 22:42

Tucker estimates that Lance Armstrong, the US rider who has won a record seven Tours, would have produced a VO2 max of between 88 and 97 ml/kg/min when he climbed Alpe d'Huez in 2004. Armstrong has not been found to have used performance-enhancing drugs, which demonstrates the strategy's limitations.

I'm not sure if I understood this, but is he saying that Armstrong is clean, thus the "superhuman performance" strategy doesn't work, or that normal doping tests don't work? If it's the first, then this article has no credibility whatsoever.
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30 Jun 2010 23:02

acoggan wrote:Well aside from the fact that I think he's wrong on the numbers, consider this: based on analysis of power meter files from pro riders competing in such races, it is clear that estimates such as those generated by Tucker or Vayer are often in error by 10%, sometimes more.


since a problem involves the need to estimate power data, why not require power meters with data downloaded to WADA as part of the bio passport program?
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30 Jun 2010 23:32

acoggan wrote:Maybe his coach is just really good at using certain tools for managing one's form. ;)


Knowing Paul Sherwen's stance, he might say Jani's been "reaching into his suitcase of courage".

Rummage sale, spring cleaning?

He might cause some trouble for Astana if he can hold his form (not yet shown in past GTs).
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01 Jul 2010 00:07

acoggan wrote:BTW, this paper provides a perfect illustration of why the approach proposed in the New Scientist article (and by Lemond, etc.) is fraught with difficulties:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2022559

I have not applied the same logic to maximal 1 hr power, but if you did you would arrive at a value for power in W/kg that would appear "superhuman", yet could quite possibly be the result of just a fortunate but random confluence of perfectly natural variation (plus training, of course).

Andrew, if that's true, why we were not seeing these results Pre-Nineties? I can give anybody the benefit of the doubt, but Vayer is using history as his deffense.

Image

I think Lance's number has been over-estimated is more in the area of 6.5 W/kg. I know Herrera (My Avatar) was always around 5.9-6 w/kg. And he was one of the top climbers in the 80's.

We know all the top numbers that we have seen pre nineties are from Eddy Merckx (6.4 w/kg) from the Hour record, and that's it. And that was for a 1 perfectly prepared day.

This number is similar to the one you posted earlier in this forum:
Originally Posted by acoggan
(BTW, the guy who put out the 6.42 W/kg for 1 h was Chris Boardman, who had a VO2max of 90 mL/min/kg.)


But we are talking about extreme exercise after 1 and 2 weeks. That's where the problem is.

I agree with the poster that recommends the use of power meter to evaluate the truth about the power outputs.
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01 Jul 2010 03:43

Escarabajo wrote:Andrew, if that's true, why we were not seeing these results Pre-Nineties?


There is no doubt that at least some, and almost certainly many, cyclists (and runners, XC skiers, etc.) have used rhEPO to achieve "superhuman" performances. The problem, though, is in attempting to identifying specific performances/individuals via the proposed approach - as I alluded to, estimates of power output based the time required to complete a particular climb are generally no better than +/- 10% (this conclusion is based upon comparing directly-measured power outputs to estimates reported in the media).

But we are talking about extreme exercise after 1 and 2 weeks. That's where the problem is.


Based on what I have seen, I would say that most people overestimate the impact that previous stages, or even earlier portions of stages with mountain-top finishes, have upon sustainable power output, at least for "protected" riders. Indeed, this makes sense in the context of both evolution and the fact that it is widely recognized that short-term power output is more affected by acute increases or decreases in training load.

I agree with the poster that recommends the use of power meter to evaluate the truth about the power outputs.


That eliminates the issue of estimation, but introduces new problems with respect to calibration, standardization, tampering, etc. Moreover, even if those problems are solved you are still faced with the issue of how to define what is or is not a believable performance...for example, based on what has been published in the scientific literature I can make the argument that an "hour power" of nearly 9 W/kg is physiologically plausible. (Note that I'm not saying that really believe this...only that I can support such a conclusion by reference to the scientific literature.)
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01 Jul 2010 04:59

Parrot23 wrote:Knowing Paul Sherwen's stance, he might say Jani's been "reaching into his suitcase of courage".

Rummage sale, spring cleaning?

He might cause some trouble for Astana if he can hold his form (not yet shown in past GTs).


Joe Friel has some interesting comments on Jani's Tweets and increased power:

http://www.joefrielsblog.com/

The problem I have with assertions regarding superhuman performances as indications of doping is that almost every type of endurance sports keeps generally getting faster. This of course could be caused, at least in part, by doping but, it is also likely to be, at least in part, the result of better/smarter training methods. I don't think anyone would dispute that LeMond trained with the advantages of a current top pro (without doping of course) he would be faster than he was at the height of his career. Obviously there must a limit to human performance, but a lot of evidence suggests that in many sports it has yet to be reached.
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01 Jul 2010 08:06

A couple of points about the use of performance to identify "flags":

First, I'd really love to see the specifics of the studies that show how 9W/kg is possible, Andy? Apart from referring to this literature, what is the physiology behind that? The Joyner paper on marathon running provided only the explanation of those factors which are already used by the likes of Vayer and myself to estimate the physiological demand of certain cycling performances - cycling efficiency (analogous to Joyner's economy), VO2max and lactate threshold (which is a driver of the intensity that a rider can sustain for a given period). These are exactly what are used to make the calculations, so the Joyner paper does little to show the flaws (unless you're criticizing the Joyner paper...?)

So, having already taken those into account, people like Vayer, me and Pierre Salet (all quoted in the New Scientist article) are estimating a limit to performance. The Joyner paper does nothing to highlight "limitations", and again, if there is a paper I am missing that shows that 9W/kg is possible, then please provide it rather than just alluding to it. I realize I may still be a "newly-minted" physiologist (to use your description of me) but I'd like to see the facts, not assertions.

With regards to the error, you're 100% correct. There is error. That is why nobody has yet said that this kind of analysis "PROVES" doping, only that it can highlight cases that may be suspected. Anyone who says "I've proved doping based on performance" has a problem, and deserves criticism. But to say you're embarrassed for the field, that seems a bit extreme because a) the author of that piece is not from your field so surely one should be a little more constructive - write to him and show him the "light", and b) it's an over-reaction to an idea - the whole tone of the New Scientist piece is very speculative, as it should be.

And just a note on the error - in a study done by Portoleau et al, the estimation method was validated against SRM measurements in 16 male cyclists, and the average difference between the two was 0.24% (CI = -6.1, 6, 6%).

Where the larger error comes in, and I am stating this openly because I don't wish to purport this level of accuracy, is when you estimate rider mass, and also some of the assumptions you make regarding the cyclist's efficiency - is efficiency 23% or 25%? I go with 23% myself, because that's what the best Tour rider in recent years was measured at, and because that's what we get in our lab on Tour-level riders. Note also that as a cyclist's efficiency rises, their VO2max comes down (Lucia et al., http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12471319). So a rider with efficiency of 21% is much more likely to have a VO2max of 86ml/kg/min, whereas someone at 23% will achieve the same performance with a VO2max of say 78ml/kg/min. The combination of high efficiency AND high maximal O2 consumption is very rare indeed.

But in my view, the error in the data is much smaller than the differences in physiology that would be expected. I see Prof Hans Rosling's population data as an example of this - they are collecting demographic data from all over the world and are roundly criticized for the lack of "quality control" on the data, but his point, which I agree with, is that the differences in the data are larger than the error in the data, so they are still enormously valuable.

Now, I would love to see the physiology of 9W/kg. But outright dismissals of ideas, that's not science, and I don't think it helps people at all. So if you know how 9W/kg can be achieved:
a) Get yourself to France right now, because there are millions to be made!, and
b) Inform us all!

Cheers
Ross
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